AJFI-Jihva for Coconuts would be incomplete without a word on the coconut itself. It is said that there are as many coconut trees in Kerala as there are stars in the sky. Anyone who has even the tiniest pocket of land would have at least a couple of palms on it. Coconut palms endearingly dot the front yard and backyard of every house along the Southern Coast. There coconuts are freshly grated for every dish and even now, the preferred drink for guests are tender coconut water blended with the soft coconut flesh, cardamom and sugar.
I remember being asked to write essays on the beneficial qualities of the palm tree in school and wondering what good this would do in my education. What was then disregarded as homework and written by rote, now interests me as everyone around me is concerned about organic and functional utility. The palms are hand harvested by agile climbers. They use just two loops of coir rope(which is organic made from coconut husk) one for the hands and one for the feet to climb up the 20-30 odd feet up to the bunches of fruits. The palms also act as support for the pepper vines.
Anywhere from 5-20 coconuts are harvested from a single palm depending on the type and age of the palm. If left unharvested, they over mature and start dropping off one by one. If we were around during the harvest, we would plead for tender coconuts and spend the afternoon scraping out the soft flesh and guzzling the coconut water. The coconut water is sweet when found inside unripe coconuts and turns a bit bitter as the fruit matures and the flesh thickens up.
Every part of the fruit from the husk to the shell and the flesh inside is used in some way or the other. As everyone knows, the white flesh is grated and used in curries or ground to extract the milk. The extra coconuts are stacked in a dry place, sometimes over the kitchen attic, dried over indirect heat into Khopra, which are then pressed to yield coconut oil. Coconut oil extracted from the dried Khopra possesses healing properties as shown here and is extensively used in traditional medicine among Asian and Pacific populations.
Though badly maligned here, the health benefits of coconut oil is still being researched and debated. however, it still has fat calories similar to cream and should be used sparingly.
When the JFI ingredient was announced, it was a question of what not to post as a lot of our traditional recipes are based on coconut. I chose coconut rice for the JFI to highlight the unique flavor of coconut and rice together. Adding coconut milk to rice is common in Thai and Malaysian cooking but adding it with fenugreek and fennel seeds is unique to the Malabar region. The bitterness of the fenugreek is nice contrast to the sweetness of the coconut and fennel seeds. Try this with any spicy curry and lentils.
You will need:
Kali Jeera Rice or any medium grain rice - 3 cups or 500 gm
Fennel Seeds (perunjeerakam/saunf)-1 ½ tsp
Fenugreek seeds(Uluva/Methi)- 2 tsp
Shallots/ Red Pearl Onions-12
Coconut Grated- 2or3 cups or 1 can coconut milk.
Ghee/Olive oil – 1 tsp
Salt- 3/4 tsp or to taste
Water- as needed.
Coconut Milk: Grind the grated coconut with the fennel seeds, cardamom, 5 shallots and1 cup water for a minute and then put it in a blender processing it at high speed. Strain with the back of a spoon into a strainer, pressing out all the liquid. Repeat blending using the same coconut and ¾ cup water as the coconut is already moist and extract into a separate bowl. This can be done twice or thrice as the second and even third extracts is the thin coconut milk which has flavor and is used as cooking liquid instead of water. The first milk is to be kept aside to be added to the rice only after it is fully cooked. You should have 1 cup of first milk and at least 4-5 cups of the thin milk after extraction.
1. Clean, wash and drain the rice. Slice the remaining shallots finely. Keep the coconut milk ready.
2. Heat the ghee/oil in a heavy sauté pan or a pressure cooker and add the remaining shallots, the fenugreek, the rice and 4 cups of the thin milk. Add water if your thin milk is not enough. The proportion should be 1- 1 1/2 cup of liquid less than needed for full cooking.
3. Bring the liquid to a boil and cover and cook. In a pressure cooker, this would take only 2 whistles and then turn off the flame. Alternately, you could cook it covered in a sauté pan on the cooking range for 10-15 minutes keeping the flame very low. Add salt as needed.
4. Keep the pan covered for another 5 minutes after turning off the flame as the rice will continue cooking. Open, place it back on the fire and add the remaining 1 cup of thin milk and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Check to see if the rice is fully cooked. If not, add more thin milk and let it cook on low heat. When it is fully cooked, add the thick milk and gently fold it in. Do not boil it after the thick milk is added. 5. Remove from fire and let it sit covered for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavors to soak in. The finished texture should be somewhere in between a creamy risotto and separated overcooked grains.
Fluff the rice gently and serve warm. This is served traditionally with meat curry but any spicy curry will favor it well.
P.S. The liquid needed varies with the type of rice so follow the package instructions for the amount of liquid. Traditionally this is made with parboiled rice, a kind of rice which is steamed before it's husked, a process that causes the grains to absorb many of the nutrients from the husk. When cooked, the grains are more nutritious, firmer, and less clingy than white rice grains. This rice is available in any Indian store and Uncle Ben has a version of parboiled rice which is close to but not exactly the Kerala one.
The cooking time and liquid needed is different for parboiled rice. The water needed is three times the amount of rice so make note and adjust the coconut milk accordingly.
I made a variation and found it tastes just as good with kali jeera rice or any medium grain rice. It cuts down on the cooking time and amount of milk used drastically.
Coconut Rice, Coconut, Rice, Food Blog, Indian Recipes, Malabar Recipes